The novel Traveler by the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk, the 2018 Nobel Prize winner Ambiguous, haunting, playful and provocative meditations masterfully woven, the novel translated by Ihab Abdel Hamid explores what it means to be a traveller, a wanderer or an object in constant movement not only through space and time but also across spaces and realms of cultural anthropology. where do you come from? where are you going what are you wearing What do you see, see or think?
A Polish man on a Croatian island on holiday searches for his missing wife and child; A classics professor appointed as a distinguished lecturer on a Greek cruise falls overboard and dies in Athens; A Russian mother, long confined by the care of her seriously ill son, steps out of her home and life, tries a new, risky life, rides the Moscow metro and spends time with the homeless; A German doctor who is obsessed with body parts “keeps photos of the vulva in cardboard boxes”, travels to a conference to speak in his intervention on “preservation of pathology specimens by silicone plastic … etc.”
The novel published by Dar al-Tanweer is characterized by an unconventional plot, which may seem chaotic at first, but then we find ourselves in front of a very complex structure, which did not result in a single narrative direction, but rather a kind of shimmering network of narrative connections, as if the author was inspired by the maps and routes of airline networks-like.
The author connects her autopsy stories as if to unravel the threads of mystery, examining and re-examining each specimen in ever finer detail. Each story revolves around the quest for immortal life and the essence of human existence. It is a search that leads the characters of flight and its narrator to an endless and restless investigation into the outer and inner worlds of humanity, which refuses to separate body and soul.
There is a utopian theory of mobility and endless curiosity, there is everyday reality, which consists of hundreds of familiar, mostly indescribable details – the rooms we sit in, the dull rooms we grew up in; The streets we live in, the old streets we grew up in, which now only exist in our heads. There is the desirable horizon, but there is also the wrinkled field that we know so well that made us who we are.
She begins by recalling the narrator/traveler from her Polish childhood, and how she was drawn to the river “Oder,” an example of the movement in whose horizons the novel seems to me “enormous, flowing in turn, unimpeded , prone to flood, unexpected. From time to time along its banks, It met an obstacle beneath the surface, and eddies formed. But the river ran in vain, unconcerned about its hidden purposes beyond the horizon, far out there in the north, you could not fix your eyes on the water, because it looked up beyond the horizon, until you lost your balance.”
The narrator, whose parents seem to have deep roots in the land, a traditional presence interrupted only by annual holidays, tells us that she is content with her free existence. “I stand there on the dam on the bank and staring at the stream, I realize that a moving thing, despite all the dangers, is always better than a still thing; That change is always nobler than permanence, that the static will disintegrate and disintegrate and turn into dust, while the moving can exist forever and ever. Thus, the artistic energy in which the novel is written is an energy derived from movement from the shuddering of buses, the noise of airports, the rumble of planes, the vibration of trains and ferries, the fluctuations of people and nature, and the contradictions of history, cultures and civilizations.
It is an exciting novel in the way that the unclassifiable is exciting, a work of fiction and a treasure trove of curiosity, research and contemplation, which takes its reader through an endless series of airports, which brings the narrator/traveler the new home of the call humanity. “I’ve always dreamed of watching without anyone seeing me,” she says. “Like a ‘darkroom’ camera I once made out of a shoebox. It was for me to capture part of the world through a closed black space with a microscopic pupil through the light. I practiced.”
The narrator/traveler is drawn to all that is rotten, flawed, broken, to “anything that deviates from the norm, too small or too big,” and this is evident in her short stories of airports and hotel lobbies, travel psychology, guidebooks , and longer stories take place all over the world and in different historical eras, as if they were found, so the novel is filled with worlds and spaces of great human, social and cultural richness, rich under the weight of contradictions, defeats and political conflicts.
Excerpt from the novel
** Symptomatic syndrome
My travel log will in fact be a record of an illness. I have a syndrome easily found in the Atlas of Clinical Syndrome that is increasing in frequency – at least according to the literature – at an even greater rate. It is better to look at that old edition “published in the seventies” of the book “Clinical syndromes”, which is more like an encyclopedia of syndromes. It is also an inexhaustible source of God for me. Who would dare to describe people as integral units; Both objective and general? Who would use the idea of ”personhood” with such conviction? Who Suakmha above each other to come out convincing patterns? I do not think so. The idea of illness syndrome fits “travel psychology” as well as a glove fits a hand. The syndrome is small, portable, not burdened by theory, fragmented. You can use it to describe something and then put it aside. A cognitive tool that is used once and then thrown away.
My syndrome is called ‘repetitive detoxification syndrome’. Its description, without embellishment or embellishment, is summed up in the insistence of one’s consciousness to return to certain images, or even to an obsessive search for those images. This is a variant on the “vile world syndrome”, which has been described for a relatively long time in neuropsychiatric studies as a specific type of infection caused by the media. It’s a bourgeois disease par excellence, I suppose. Patients spend long hours in front of the TV, pressing the buttons of the remote control with their fingers, scrolling through all the channels until they find channels that broadcast the most terrible news: wars, epidemics, disasters. Then, fascinated by what they see, they cannot take their eyes off.
The symptoms themselves are not dangerous, and allow one to lead a normal life as long as one can maintain some emotional distance. This unfortunate syndrome has no cure; Science can only confirm its unfortunate existence. When patients, disturbed by their own behavior, end up in psychiatrists’ clinics, they are told to try to live a healthier life – stop drinking coffee and alcohol, sleep in a well-ventilated room, garden, weave, or embroider.
My set of symptoms revolves around my attraction to all things rotten, flawed, imperfect, damaged. I find myself interested in every form it can take, mistakes in making an object, dead ends. What was supposed to develop, but for some reason did not develop; Or vice versa, which extends beyond the scope of its design. Anything that deviates from the norm, anything smaller than normal or larger than normal, enlarged or incomplete, ugly and disgusting. Forms indifferent to symmetry, which grow exponentially, spurt and overflow, pop up here and there, or, on the contrary, are reduced to a single unit. I’m not interested in the patterns that statisticians scrutinize and scrutinize, the ones that everyone celebrates with a familiar satisfied smile on their face. I feel vulnerable to wonders and freaks. I firmly believe, painfully, that it is in these monstrosities that existence makes its way to the surface and reveals its true nature. Revelation caused by a stroke of luck. The phrase “Don’t bother me” says someone embarrassingly, a pantyhose seam showing from beneath an elegantly pleated skirt. The hideous metal frame suddenly bounces off the velvet upholstery; A pulsating radiance from within in a comfortable chair exposes the illusions of softness.
** Seven years of travels
“We go on a trip every year, and we’ve been doing it for seven years since we got married,” said the young man on the train. He wore a long, elegant black overcoat and carried a hard document bag that looked somewhat like a fine silver wallet.
He used to say, “We have tons of photos, we keep them in an organized way. Southern France, Tunisia, Turkey, Italy, Crete, Croatia – even Scandinavia.” Usually, he said, they look at the photos several times: first with family, then in the office, then with friends, and then the photos are kept safely in plastic files, like evidence in an investigator’s locker—proof that they were there.
In his mind, he looks out the window at the landscape that seems to be rushing somewhere. Did he ever think about the meaning of “we were there” in the first place? Where did these two weeks in France go? Those two weeks that can now be crammed into just a few memories – the sudden feeling of hunger at the walls of the medieval city and the evening in a cafe with a vine roof. What happened in Norway? All that was left of her was the cool lake water of that endless day, then the enjoyment of the beer grabbed just before the shop closed, or the captivating first glimpse of the fjord.
“The things I saw became mine,” concluded the young man who suddenly returned from his dismissal and slapped his thigh with his palm.